How I navigated four pregnancies as a single mother

Late one night more than a decade ago, I was crashing on my friend’s couch in Tucson, Arizona, worrying about how to make ends meet. I’d been staying with her because my father was in jail, and my mother — well, she was everywhere.

My eyes were red and puffy from crying. Just inches away, I could see the ominous double pink lines on my pregnancy test. “It’s going to be OK,” I told myself. I had faced adversity as long as I could remember; my childhood was turbulent, and after 12 consecutive high schools in multiple states, I had long given up on my hopes of finishing my education. Though it had been difficult with a record, I’d been able to get a job that helped cover my needs, and through the help of friends, I’d been able to put a roof over my head each night.


But how was I, at 18 years old, supposed to bring an innocent baby into this lifestyle? I knew I needed to be tough and to figure it out for my son or daughter. But was being “tough” enough without family, resources, or support?

Thankfully a friend told me about
Maggie’s Place
, an organization that helps single mothers like me to get back on their feet.

Maggie’s Place not only provides women with housing throughout their pregnancies and years after, but also prepares them for the real world with parenting classes, job training, financial assistance, and literacy training. It offers therapy and individual counseling for mothers, working together with families to help break cycles of trauma and abuse. It even had a thrift store, where mothers could purchase inexpensive clothing for themselves and their babies.

It sounded too good to be true, but I was willing to give it a shot. So, in 2010, I showed up 10 weeks pregnant on the doorstep of The Magdalene House, a Maggie’s Place home in Phoenix. I was empty-handed except for one small suitcase with my life’s belongings tucked inside.

The home was beautiful and so far from what I imagined that I wondered if I was at the wrong address. Rather than the dingy, dorm-type care center I was expecting, the home was neat, cozy, and welcoming.

The next few years of my involvement with Maggie’s Place would continue to defy my expectations. While living at The Magdalene House, I was assigned a live-in AmeriCorps member to be my support contact, and we were able to develop a close relationship and partner to ensure my needs were met. We would work with our contact person each week to establish goals, discuss opportunities for programs I could participate in, and talk about anything else I wanted to. I developed close friendships with many of these women, who were there with me throughout my pregnancy and well after the birth of my first son, Donoven.

Maggie’s Place truly came to feel like home through the communal Monday night dinners and the parties on Saturdays where the mothers could share advice, laughs, and sweets after a long week.

The best part of the community was the way each mother looked out for the others’ children — like a large happy family. Even the tiniest things, such as a communal fridge with food for us to share, helped us to feel supported and cared for.

Even after moving out of The Magdalene House, Maggie’s Place was vital to my survival throughout the next few years, which proved to be the hardest of my life. When my third child died of sudden infant death syndrome, I found solace in the love, community, and therapeutic services Maggie’s Place provided.

When I was suffering from domestic violence, and social services took my 3-year-old son Donoven and 2-month-old daughter Aaliyah, Maggie’s Place once again stepped in. It helped me to get out of an abusive relationship and receive counseling, to recover my children, and to set boundaries for future relationships to ensure this never happened again. My son Donoven suffered from the trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder of this separation, but through the resilience and skills I had learned at Maggie’s Place, I became a fierce supporter of his education and thank God every day to see the radical change he has undergone. He is now 11 years old, and just this past year, he won an award for being the most well-behaved student in his class.

The skills and job training I received at Maggie’s Place also equipped me for a successful career. I landed a job at a staffing company where I was promoted to warehouse manager. I was recently named an MVP of the company and received an award for consistently improving the warehouse. Not only that, but my company’s CEO personally came to thank me in recognition of my hard work. Most importantly, my hard work paid off for my family, and this is the first year I have ever been able to take a paid vacation with my children. I’m also saving up to buy my own home.

Throughout the past several years, I’ve learned that being “tough” is important in overcoming adversity, but community and support are essential. Women facing difficult situations like my own need strong communities to shower them with the love, resources, and support to help them pick up the threads of their life and keep going. I would never have been able to achieve the success in my career, or the stability in my family, that I now possess without Maggie’s Place.

Thanks to Maggie’s Place, I am now the proud, successful mother of four beautiful children, one of whom is already in Heaven. Every Tuesday, I return to Maggie’s Place to run the same peer support groups I once participated in as a resident of the home, and I currently manage a caseload of more than 10 mothers. I try to show them by my example that with some resilience and a lot of love, they’ll succeed.


Bridget Ibarra lives in the Phoenix area.